In protest of a burkini ban, a group of Muslim women entered the pool in full-body Islamic swim burkas. However, once the pool owner saw that they were breaking the rules, he made a move that no one anticipated.
For several years, Muslim women in France have insisted upon wearing Islamic clothing in public, despite multiple provinces passing legislation against certain garb. Initially, lawmakers targeted the niqab, which covers all but the wearer’s eyes, arguing that the clothing obscures the face and is, therefore, a security hazard.
More recently, the full-body bathing suit called the “burkini” has come under fire, with many claiming that it is not only a hygiene concern but a safety issue, as the loose-fitting outfit clings to the body and weighs down the swimmer when wet. As such, subsequent bans have sparked heated debate and protests across the country in the name of religious freedom.
In a bid to defy the burkini ban at public swimming pools, a group of Muslim women donned the Islamic bathing suit and entered the water at several facilities in Grenoble. Hoping to force the owners to lift a citywide ban on the swimwear, the women entered the water and refused to get out for at least an hour. What they received in return wasn’t quite what they expected.
Instead of accommodating their demands and lifting the burkini ban, two business owners shut down their pools, sending the public a message implying that the Muslim women had ruined it for everyone because they wouldn’t follow the rules. According to Al Jazeera, seven burkini-clad women and multiple activists from the Alliance Citoyenne rights group arrived at the pools demanding the businesses change their rules. Instead, they achieved the closure of both pools.
The pools, which include Jean Bron and Les Dauphins in Grenoble, require men to wear swim trunks only and women to wear either bikinis or one-piece swimsuits, according to the Independent. When the Muslim women were told that they cannot wear the burkinis in the pools because they go against their regulations, the protesters insisted that the rules be changed.
“They contested a situation in which close to a thousand female inhabitants of Grenoble find themselves obliged to choose between respecting their religious convictions and accessing public services,” Citizens Alliance wrote in a statement.
The Muslim women and activists immediately took to social media, claiming that they were turned away because of Islamophobia and illegal discrimination. However, a city hall spokesperson explained that there were teenagers present who were threatening and being rude toward the lifeguards.
Additionally, Mayor Eric Piolle denounced the activists, accusing them of deliberately staging the incidents and using “tactics of shock and buzz.” The events were reportedly part of the organization’s Operation Burkini campaign, which was launched by the activists and around 30 other supporters.
“I hear controversy, but there are two interpretations of republican equality possible, which is precious to everyone here,” Mr Piolle said in a statement. “For some, Grenoble’s current regulations, which are essentially the same as everywhere in France, are considered discriminating. Grenoble protects equality by distancing itself from symbols of religious belonging.”
France is Europe’s first country to ban the face veil in public, which was legislated in 2011. Still, individuals and organizations continue to contest the matter in courts across the country, arguing that the right to wear the Islamic veil outranks the right to public safety.
The Muslim women and activists have compared themselves to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, insinuating that their demand to wear their burkinis in the pool is akin to her refusal to move from her bus seat.
Despite their efforts, all that the women seem to have achieved is the closure of the public service to everyone. For now, the pools remain closed to the public and the Muslim women are still insisting that the city-wide ban be lifted.